Tigers great Jack Morris waves to the crowd before throwing out the first pitch before Game 5 of the ALCS between the Tigers and Red Sox in October at Comerica Park. (Dale G. Young / Detroit News)
Any time Mark Fidrych pitched for the Tigers, the ancient Detroit ballpark became a stage for the circus. It was La-La Land. Hellzapoppin.
The atmosphere at Tiger Stadium was electric with The Bird and his antics. It became like a Lady Gaga concert (my imagination, how would I know?).
And on this particular day in August 1977, the ballpark was jammed, lured by the late Mark Fidrych. You could sense the anticipation.
Then came this familiar sound at Detroit sports — especially in the moribund 1970s.
“Boooooo, booooo,” went the people.
“We want The Bird! We want The Bird!”
A different young pitcher was running to the left-field bullpen. He started to warm up. He was going to start the ballgame in the place of the beloved Fidrych, who had provided excitement to Detroit sports during the doldrums.
Jack Morris remembers that night well because he was the replacement pitcher and he has talked frequently about his raw welcome.
“Fidrych was hurt, and when I ran out to the bullpen in left field, everybody booed,” Morris told me time and again through the years. “It was my first start.
“They all were there to watch The Bird. Not me.
“I knew it would be a rough road.”
The Bird was the man of the people, and Morris was this unknown rookie recently up from the minors. There was no magic to the name Jack Morris.
He started against the Texas Rangers on this August day in 1977. And he survived 6˝ innings before manager Ralph Houk yanked him and went to the bullpen. The Tigers lost in 11 innings. Morris wound up with a no-decision for his efforts.
But between that night and 1994, he would win 254 ballgames in the major leagues, plus seven in postseason competition, four of those victories in World Series.
In 1984, the last time the Tigers won a World Series — getting on 30 years ago — Morris won two games over the San Diego Padres.
He was a no-name with a no-decision back in 1977. But the other day, I checked the box next his name on my Hall of Fame ballot for the 15th — and final — time and dropped it into a mailbox. He is bound to fail again — kept out of his deserved spot in Cooperstown by prejudice and misunderstanding by the voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America. He moves on to be judged by a Veterans Committee in a few years.
“I know I’m a dinosaur,” Morris said earlier this year after he had missed election to the Hall of Fame by a narrow margin.
Now Morris is confronted by a logjam.
He knows it.
No laughing matter
Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine are for the first time eligible for election to the Hall of Fame. Maddux won 355 games, a wonderful durable pitcher. Glavine won 305. They top Morris in total victories. And they top him in popularity among the BBWAA electorate.
There is no duel here. Maddux and Glavine will stuff Morris out of the competition. Jack goes 15 years and out, on to the Veterans Committee.
It’s a shame, a pity. Jack should have collected the required 75 percent of the votes years ago. One of his World Series victories was for the Twins, a 1-0 Game 7 epic in 10 innings over the Braves in 1991.
There has been a great deal of controversy about the electoral process for the Hall of Fame. The voting has been restricted to newspaper baseball writers for the 44 years that I have been a qualified voter. That means no TV guys, no radio guys.
Lately, the BBWAA has become a little more flexible.
For all these years, I have regarded voting for the Hall of Fame as something sacred, a trust, an honor. It is not a frivolous duty. But perhaps we all have become dinosaurs.
This year, one of the 700 plus voters among us sold his — or her — Hall of Fame ballot to Deadspin.com. The person remains anonymous. The guy is a traitor, and once upon a time there was way to deal with those committing treason. A firing squad.
Oops, baseball is a game.
Deadspin thrives on the irreverent, the controversial, the attack on the old-fashioned. The circus again. And guess what? I am admittedly old and old-fashioned.
But despite my stodginess, I also find Deadspin worth a bunch of giggles. Most of the content is funny. Not this time.
I think it is quite sad that Morris will be left out. That the best baseball team I ever covered —the 1984 Tigers — will have not a single player in the Cooperstown Hall of Fame. Only Sparky Anderson, the manager, has been elected to the Hall of Fame. And forced to choose, Sparky opted to go into the Hall as the once-manager of the Cincinnati Reds.
The process somehow should be changed.
And the practice in writing Hall of Fame columns in the Internet era is to open the writers’ ballots for public scrutiny. OK, I voted for Morris and Alan Trammell. Not a homer’s vote, but the vote of a journalist who appreciates baseball and baseball achievement. Proof is my other eight were Maddux, Glavine, Craig Biggio, Edgar Martinez, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Lee Smith and Frank Thomas.
We’re all doomed to become dinosaurs!
Jerry Green is a retired Detroit News sportswriter. Read his web-exclusive column Sundays at detroitnews.com.